A story about the original “Atelier”
(from Century Homes magazine)
If you were to look for Canada’s earliest tradition other than the aboriginal you must start with the French style. I’ve always been intrigued and beguiled by it, particularly those field stone cottages often whitewashed over with their multi-paned casements and colorful shutters. I think of the habitants themselves, who have shown us their strength of character and perseverance to carry such a simple, bold form to a new land with faith and self-confidence. This architectural form, adapting itself with Nature and its natural providers, water, land and forest, thus came to rest honestly and comfortably in their new environment. Of their water I have some experience. In my more adventurous youth, favourite tales of the courier-de-bois eventually led me into their wilderness.
I’m sure I shot many of the same rapids they met up with centuries ago. The few homes I saw along the river trails always impressed me though at that time I had not thought architecture would be become so much a part of my future. It did occur to me at the time however, that there was little else that could carry one back as far to the first days of colonization whose merit lies in their being of another age. I used to travel extensively and particularly remember one trip across the breadth of France where patient old houses stood for generations to watch us grow from barbarians to something somewhat more human. I came to understand that it is architecture that joins yesterday with tomorrow and the march of tradition must be guarded with a good heart and a definite will to do so. It is obvious that these dwellings had been designed with an eye to pleasant proportion, the idea of which the French Canadian ancestor brought from Normandy, with their pointed roofs sloping down steeply to the single story snugged to the ground, lending them an appearance picturesque and original. Made for the climate and customs, they sheltered families, often large, from Canada’s extreme winters while, with their thick walls, in hot Quebec summers they retained a soothing coolness. The stability of the wall was given by its thickness, often two to four feet depending on the size of the house.
There they stand, houses supported and carried easily as a child in its father’s hand by over-strong masonry walls. With little decoration to temper the severe aspect of these houses every line comes to symbolize the soul of countless generations that have known life, death, birth, marriage, happiness, sadness, war, peace and every other emotion of man. Just a glance of the actual construction with its elegance and purity of shape gives one a sense of beauty, which is, after all, the essential thing. How could we not lend our hand to hold them up when they offer us such beauty, security and relative permanence? The old building traditions of Quebec, while allowing us to proceed visually from the nineteenth century to the eighteenth century, sometimes make the dating of them difficult. Walls seldom held out against the natural agents of the slow destructive elements, fire, war, or the changes of more modem taste, not to mention the more effective agent, man. Some, fortunately, have survived with careful preservation by the few and have been restored to former appearance to be appreciated yet again. So with this appreciation in mind it did not seem so unusual for one man’s folly to tum in a particular direction. I needed another building. A painting studio. A place for some of the best of the French Canadian antiques spilling out of the log house. Of course, what could be more appropriate than a habitant cottage? I had a great spot in mind on the other side of the pond up against the hill.